Comcast recently announced that it will acquire competitor Time Warner Cable in a deal that will increase its share of the Internet service market to 38 percent. Several anti-trust and open Internet advocates, such as Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., lambasted the merger because it could harm competition and lead to higher Internet prices.
While I agree with Franken and other digital advocates, I also wanted to consider college students, who grew up with the Internet and will be the merger’s biggest losers.
For example, the Internet movie-streaming website Netflix is incredibly popular with the younger generation. A recent study from market research firm Harris Interactive shows that 43 percent of Americans between the ages of 18 and 36 subscribe to Netflix’s monthly services. These rates are much lower for middle-aged and older Americans.
This is significant because Comcast owns one of Netflix’s largest rivals, Hulu. As the result of buffering speed complaints, Netflix initiated a program called Open Connect, which allows Internet service providers to connect to Netflix-dedicated servers, which would lower congestion. Unfortunately, Comcast does not participate in this program.
The principle of net neutrality doesn’t allow ISPs to discriminately speed up or slow down specific websites. Comcast is not guilty of this direct violation of the law, but it exploited a loophole in the law, bypassing the consequences of ignoring the requests of major website competitors. In this case, Comcast has the incentive to keep Netflix slow on its servers so that they can maintain Hulu.
Moreover, Comcast has the capacity to punish those that decide to do business with its competitor by placing their shows and channels in obscure channel areas. In 2012, for example, the Federal Communications Commission forced Comcast to move Bloomberg Television, a business news channel, to its general news section slot after discrimination complaints.
For the third time, the FFC is attempting to reform the rules to make it more challenging for ISPs, such as Comcast, to discriminate against competitors. Previously, federal judges struck down FCC rules.
Assuming that the FCC will fail, which isn’t unlikely given its track record, this merger will have a negative impact on young Americans.
Considering that Comcast will own 38 percent of the ISP market, the company will gain more damaging power in the market. If college students want to watch an educational documentary for class, or spend their free time watching their favorite reruns on a service for which they pay, Comcast could hamper their experience.
Moreover, the issue delves into a deeper, philosophical concern regarding the open access of the Internet. Most people, especially young Americans, view the Internet almost as a utility, a service that they pay for on a monthly basis in exchange for consistent access. Do we need to fear municipal utility providers because they do not act to improve services after customer complaints?
This merger threatens net neutrality, and unless the FCC successfully acts to protect our online rights, college students’ expectations of the Internet will bear the brunt of this corporatism.